Bringing Bills into the Light

Mauree Miller

My current wireless company allows for a discounted “upgrade” every 2 years. My daughter used hers to get a new smartphone. I had a more basic phone, which died so I used my discount option to get the current version of the same phone I had previously. What should have been a simple transaction turned into a series of errors and excessive charges. 

Did you know that when you buy a new phone, although it is “discounted”, there is a “one time upgrade charge?” With my daughter’s phone and mine, we incurred two $18 upgrade charges. Suddenly, I saw “usage” charges, which hadn’t been an issue before. I never access data from my phone, but I had a $2.04 charge on my line. My daughter had a $30 usage charge on her line during the first month. A “discounted” phone is not really a clear discount at the time of purchase. You pay the full price, and fill out a form for a Rebate card. This practice carries its own set of problems.

Normally, I would have called Customer Service about how to deal with any one of these problems. But, since I had several issues it was looking like I wouldn’t be able to resolve them through regular channels. I proceeded straight to escalation.

How did I get to an escalated contact? A year earlier, my daughter had multiple hardware problems with her phone, which the stores weren’t able to resolve. At that time, I found someone in the executive response team who resolved the problem by crediting the wireless account significantly, due to dropped calls and static. She also replaced the phone at no charge and went to upper management to address the customer service problems that we had experienced. This was a good contact that understood and resolved the problems last year. I kept her email and phone number and contacted her again. Once more, she was able to come through.

I asked for a rebate on the “one time upgrade” charges. My reasoning was that my phone wasn’t an “upgrade”; it was a replacement—swapping the current version of my phone for the older one which died. I had also inquired about the concept of the upgrade charge—what was the service rendered for this fee? The company’s reasoning was that this fee supported the store staff time to explain options and to work with the customer on use of the phone features. This explanation didn’t work for me at all on several levels. When I had replaced this dead phone, I found that I had lost most of my stored numbers, because the prior salesperson hadn’t told me that the numbers could be saved to the SIM card or to the phone hardware. We discovered that my numbers were in the hardware, which was now destroyed. This cost me over an hour to re-enter my numbers—which should not have been the case if the salesperson had done his job. As a long time customer, I didn’t think it was unreasonable to waive what appeared to be a random fee. I used the analogy that my husband and I had recently bought a new dishwasher. The salesman spent time going over choices and then explaining how the dishwasher worked. We paid for the dishwasher. There was no charge to “upgrade” from our last dishwasher.

On the usage charges, my contact thought that I might have accidentally hit a button which triggered a usage charge, since the charge was only $2.04.  I doubt that this was the case, since I’ve never had that happen before, but I guess that she could be right.  She never explained my daughter’s charge.  But, as compensation for time and inconvenience, she credited my full bill for the prior month, which took care of the usage charges and the upgrade fees.
It’s important to check your bills for accuracy, and more so when there is some change to a regular service. Look what I found. If I hadn’t caught it and fixed it, I would have paid more than I should have paid, and the problems would have continued.

Let’s not forget the Rebate issue—more on that next time.